Mister Morel, I watched Taken, I knew Taken, Taken was a film of mine. Mister Morel, this is no Taken.
Pierre Morel apparently has a niche. If I could name his subgenre it would be “Americans destroy Paris while taking on ethnic minorities”. His debut to international audiences – the wonderfully efficient and simple actioner Taken – demonstrated that he’s a man with a no nonsense style. Carnage will happen, often to a ridiculous degree, albeit in the lovely surroundings of Paris. Nobody could accuse him of over-plotting a film.
And, to be honest, this style suited his story of a protective father trying to find his daughter. It’s a straightforward story and one which doesn’t need too much going on around it. Casting a strong leading man and delivering on the action was more than enough. Unfortunately, the approach doesn’t work here.
The plot is still deceptively simple: John Travolta plays US agent Wax who is tasked with tracking down terrorists in paris, accompanied by his handler. However, there are a whole range of strange and borderline ridiculous sub-plots and twists the movie must navigate – as if the writers and director decided what would happen next by picking the first random things that popped into their heads. “A Chinese restaurant?” “… And a cocaine den!” “I like your thinking!” And so on.
The movie is essentially nothing but a disjointed series of setpieces and scenes. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing – I mean, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is just a series of strange abstract sequences – but only if the scenes themselves work. Here, they don’t really. Things fly along and the movie takes its time explaining to us its relatively straightforward premise – for some reason I can’t even fathom, John Travolta’s Agent Wax even lies bout his objective to his sidekick. There are some double-crosses thrown in which would mean something if the movie could convince me to see these characters as characters instead of simply one-dimensional cyphers and plot functions.
The movie evokes classic Bond in its title – which, incidentally offers a nice reference as From Russia With Love was itself heavily influenced by To Paris With Love – and also seems to want to create something of an eccentric character in Wax. He’s loud, he’s obscene, he snorts cocaine and has sex with hookers. However, if Wax resembles any iteration of Bond, it’s a weird hybrid between Daniel Craig’s cool and collected killer and Roger Moore’s goofy sex maniac – it’s a very strange mixture, and one which never settles right. He seems like a horrible person. I’m not talking about “I had to do terrible things to save lives” sort of horrible, more “I’m a jackass for the sake of being a jackass” sort of horrible. There’s never really any time devoted to giving him a character outside a collection of quirks and an affinity for big explosions – and, given the movie attempts to set him up as “a character”, one would imagine that development would be essential. Still, at the very least, we get a “Royale with Cheese” reference for a character played by Travolta, who – like his co-star – is so much better than his work here.
That’s to say nothing of his poor partner, a pencil pusher at the embassy who dreams of being a covert secret agent. The movie’s best scenes involve the young guy trying awkwardly to ascend the ranks to superspy (the most impressive sequence involving him attempting to plant a bug in a French minister’s office). However, the movie proceeds to put him through an emotional wringer. The only problem is that we are never given enough reason to be too bothered about all his ties and relationships or ambitions. His transition to “bad ass” at the end of the movie – which should be character development – is awkwardly choreographed. Jonathan Rhys-Myers tries his best to make something of the character, but the script appears not to be there. It doesn’t help that the Irish actor’s American accent is almost painful. He’s a talented kid, but he needs to adopt “the Sean Connery approach” – if the audience will buy a Russian submarine commander with a Scottish accent (and an Australian second-in-command), they’ll accept an American with a faint Irish accent.
Even the action scenes seem almost lazy. Maybe Mortel works better with the more intimate canvas that he had in Taken, or maybe it’s simply too difficult for me to connect with action featuring characters I feel nothing for, but it doesn’t come together, despite featuring more car chases and rocket launchers than the earlier film. If ever you needed proof that bigger was not always better, you’ll find it here.
Also, I’m begining to feel distinctly uncomfortable at the racial undertones of these films. Taken obviously featured the Albanian mafia and Middle-Eastern royalty, but here we get Chinese drug dealers and Arab terrorists – not to mention the indication that France is unable to take care of these things themselves, so they have to fly in John Travolta. I forgave Taken because it was a successfully mindless action film, but there was nothing here to stop my mind wandering. There’s also the fact that while the content of one film could be random, the content of a set of films might build to a pattern. If I see Mortel’s third film, I may comment further.
The tagline for From Paris With Love was “no merci” and – as much as I love a good pun – I’m afraid I’d have to say “no thank you” to this film too.
Filed under: Non-Review Reviews Tagged: | action, arts, bond, from paris with love, From Russia With Love, john travolta, jonathan rhys-myers, luc besson, monty python, Movies, non-review review, paris, pierre mortel, review, Roger Moore, sean connery, spies